.hack//SIGN Vol. #2: Outcast Special Edition - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Entertainment
  • MSRP: 39.95
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: .hack//SIGN

.hack//SIGN Vol. #2: Outcast Special Edition

By Chris Beveridge     May 27, 2003
Release Date: May 06, 2003


.hack//SIGN Vol. #2: Outcast Special Edition
© Bandai Entertainment


What They Say
Tsukasa has been captured by the Crimson Knights! Subaru talks with him and tries to understand his plight, but the unbalanced Sora stages a jailbreak. Tensions mount within the group as Mimiru confronts BT about her betrayal of Tsukasa. Mimiru decides to give it all up, but after a chance encounter with another player, she changes her mind. As the clues unfold, everything points to a powerful legendary item called 'The Key of the Twilight'. Could this be the source of all the trouble in The World? Everyone seems to think so. Alliances are formed and plots are hatched with everyone's sole focus to uncover this item’s location.

The Review!


Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this very dialogue heavy shown in its original language of Japanese. Provided in a solid pro-logic mix, which would have been even more impressive in 5.1, the audio on this release really shines. Throughout the show we had no issues with distortions or dropouts, but rather simply enjoyed the spacious feel provided by the music and the sound effects mix that utilized the rear speakers nicely. The first couple of episodes may seem somewhat off as the music tends to overwhelm the actual dialogue, but I found that to be an interesting device to sort of ratchet up the speed of things.

Video:
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and encoded in anamorphic widescreen, I can’t imagine watching a broadcast version of this and feeling like it was the same show. The richness of the transfer that shows up here completely shames the broadcast version. Colors are lush and vivid and the transfer is problem free. No cross coloration, no aliasing, no macroblocking or pixellation anywhere. This is the kind of transfer that you end up losing yourself in with how fantastic it looks.

Packaging:
The artwork for the first volume didn’t do a heck of a lot for us and this second one is pretty much the same, only gaining points due to my being male and thinking the design for Lady Subaru is very attractive. The front cover scores points though with listing the volume number as well as positioning it on the spine. The back cover provides a number of small character headshots around the edges while the rest of the cover goes into details about the show with a few paragraphs of story summary and a good listing of the discs features and extras. The insert provides another shot of the front cover while it opens to provide a small section detailing some of the various NPC’s of The World. The back cover provides more detailed credits including main bilingual cast credits given to each character/actor, something we’re glad to see continuing.

For this limited edition release, I was curious as to how they were going to pack in the CD soundtrack. The keepcase comes with a cardboard sleeve around it that essentially replicates the front and back cover and contains a piece of cardboard to buffer inside as well as the CD soundtrack. Unlike the disappointment with the Please Teacher soundtrack, the case for this one is a regular full size jewel case and not a slimcase. Containing Original Soundtrack 2, the booklet and back cover is completely translated into English. Usually second soundtracks are weaker than the first, but I think this one is on par with the first one and a very welcome addition to our growing Yuki Kajiura collection.

Menu:
If there are menus you don’t mind sitting in, these are going to be them. The opening menu is a nice animated piece that has the portal floating in a circle set against a great backdrop as the music from the show plays along. There are very brief transitional animations to the submenus where you get even more of the great music playing, but to more static screens. Access times are nice and fast and the layout works nicely.

Extras:
The extras are fairly minimal here. There’s a nice seven piece image gallery that shows off some very nice looking full color character designs. The .hack timeline is an interesting if confusing piece to use, in that it provides multiple screens for different periods of time over the course of the games evolution, starting in 1993 and going through August of 2004. It’s interesting from the parts I read, but I skipped a lot of it in case of potential spoilers. Also included is some original Japanese commercials for the show, running just over a minute.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After finding ourselves very keen on the first batch of episodes of one of the most recent love it or hate it series, we were very interested to see how the second batch of episodes would go, since that’s generally a good indication of how much we’re going to get into the basic plot of the series and start learning more about the characters and settings that were setup and introduced during the first few episodes.

If anything, we’re more interested in this show as the various subplots start expanding and the layering of the world becomes more apparent. There’s definitely plenty of mysteries here, and while I expect a fair number of them to fall by the wayside, I’m definitely enjoying the way things are slowly peeling back. The actions of various characters, whether they’re treating this as a serious event or some strange little in game anomaly, are reminiscent of what many people do when they really play interactive games like this.

Of course, the way this series plays out, with so much dialogue, makes it very hard to review or go on about. After the first volume, we ended with having Tsukasa in the care of the Knights and about to be interviewed by Lady Subaru. During their conversation, it’s really becoming difficult to truly place what kind of real person Tsukasa may be outside of the World. There are aspects of his personality that would seem like he’s a young child playing in a grown-ups game, but that’s offset with phrases and actions that indicate he’s definitely older.

One character who becomes much less annoying through here is Sora, whose attempts to discover more secrets about the Key of Twilight leads him to use his skills and barter his way into Mimiru’s life. Knowing that Tsukasa may be an integral part of this adventure, he offers his services to free Sora from the Knights protective care, and this leads to an amusing exchange between him and Mimiru, but ultimately leads to a fun little sequence with him breaking Tsukasa out. The indignation of the Knights is almost priceless, the snubbing of a sort of those character-players who, while taking things seriously, go just a bit too far at times.

A lot of the main cast members throughout these episodes begin moving in two directions, both of them towards the same goal. The Key of Twilight is something that catches the attention of most of the players, though there are varying levels of belief about the existence of such an item – and the lack of belief is something that becomes important about whether it actually exists or not. BT finds herself being very keen on finding the Key and starts making a deal behind the scenes with Crim, a disbeliever about it since he has spent years searching for it.

Bear and Mimiru begin the idea of forming an actual party to look for it, as she’s begun her quest to bring Tsukasa out from his hiding place and into the group to try and help him somehow, figuring the Key may play a part. Bear’s surprised by her admission but begins to think it may play well into his own detective work about Tsukasa, though he’s had a rather poor encounter with him already. And with Sora always underfoot when least expected, it’s little surprise that he weasels his way into the group. The formation of a new party gets underway way here, though in a very disjointed manner.

There’s also a new character introduced in these episodes, the small and lithe A-20, a young girl whose trying to figure out why some of her schoolmates play this particular game and enjoy it so much. She initially tries teaming up with Mimiru and the two go to some very difficult dungeons, an adventure that provides Mimiru with the chance to lecture some about proper playing, but also lets her get things set in her own mind about Tsukasa. A-20 is a strange little addition that I’m not sure how will play into things, though she does provide the viewpoint of a complete newbie for the viewer.

And, as with the previous volume, the music is absolutely gorgeous throughout all of this. With so much of it shadowing the lengthy dialogue scenes, it really helps things flow along nicely. Just about every piece fits perfectly with this score and I can’t get enough of it. I love listening to every opening, ending, preview and bit in-between. I haven’t devoured a soundtrack like this in ages.

With the first volume, people will fall quickly into the love it or hate it camps and I can’t see this second volume changing anyone’s mind. Those who are in the love it camp like me will definitely find a lot to enjoy with this volume. From a great transfer to a top notch score to all the fun exposition and plot movements, .hack is keeping me very interested in where it’s going.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Production Art Gallery,Commercial Collection,.hack Timeline

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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